Knowledge is gained only through experience, and experiences only exist in the mind as individual units of thought. This theory of knowledge belonged to David Hume, a Scottish philosopher. Hume was born on April 26, 1711, as his familys second son. His father died when he was an infant and left his mother to care for him, his older brother, and his sister. David Hume passed through ordinary classes with great success, and found an early love for literature. He lived on his familys estate, Ninewells, near Edinburgh. Throughout his life, literature consumed his thoughts, and his life is little more than his works. By the age of 40, David Hume had been employed twice and had failed at the family careers, business and law. Occasionally, he served on diplomatic missions in France and other countries.
Humes major work, A Treatise of Human Nature, was not well understood when first published, and received much criticism. The first two volumes were published in 1739, and the third in 1740. Immanuel Kant and other philosophers did notice his work and began respecting Hume for his reasoning. Later, he republished the first and third volumes as An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, and An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals in 1748 and 1751 respectively. The second volume was used as Part 2 of Four Dissertations in 1757.
During his lifetime Humes reputation derived from the publication of his Political Discourses (1751) and six-volume History of England (1754-1762), (Langley 415). David Hume discovered he was literary celebrity when visiting France in 1763. He retired to Edinburgh in 1769 and lived a happy life. He passed away August 25, 1776 and left in his will that he only wanted his name and date on his gravestone, leaving it to posterity to add the rest, (Langley 415).
Skepticism is the belief that people can not know the nature of things because perception reveals things not as they are, but as we experience them. In other words, knowledge is never known in truth, and humans should always question it. David Hume advanced skepticism to what he called mitigated skepticism. Mitigated skepticism was his approach to try to rid skepticism of the thoughts of human origin, and only include questions that people may begin to understand. Humes goal was to limit philosophical questioning to things which could be comprehended.
Empiricism states that knowledge is based on experience, so everything that is known is learned through experience, but nothing is ever truly known. David Hume called lively and strong experiences, perceptions, and less lively events, beliefs or thoughts. Different words and concepts meant different things to different people due to the knowledge, or experiences they have. He believed, along with the fact that knowledge is only gained through experience, that a persons experiences are nothing more than the contents of his or her own consciousness. The knowledge of anything comes from the way it is perceived through the five senses. Hume began to distinguish between feelings and thoughts. Feelings are only impressions made upon the body, and thoughts arrive from impressions; for nothing can be thought that has not been experienced.
The meaning of ideas is more important than their truth. Belief results from ideas and assumptions, which are recollected from previous knowledge. Humes analysis of causal relation is that everything that happens beyond what is available to memory rests on assumption.
Let us examine two cases: I see lightning and hear thunder; I see a rabbit and then a fox. The question is why I am right in concluding that lightning causes thunder but wrong in believing that rabbits cause foxes. Experience, in both instances, reveals an A that is followed by B, and repeated experiences show that A is always followed by B. While the constant conjunction of A and B might eliminate the rabbit-fox hypothesis, it is of no help in explaining causality because there are all sorts of objects, such as tables and chairs, which are similarly conjoined but not supposed to be causally related. Thus experience reveals only that constant conjunction and priority are sufficient but not necessary conditions for establishing a causal connection. (Langley 417)
David Hume was a great philosopher. He was well known for his works and respected by the people of his time. His philosophical reasonings were written down to explain the unknown, to the people who know nothing but what they have experienced. Today philosophers read his material and highly regard his theory of knowledge. Empiricists and skeptics are still improving upon his thoughts. According to David Hume, there is no truth, but humans must continue to seek it by constantly improving upon one another. His theories can be used by ordinary people to improve upon themselves and their culture.
Langley, Raymond J. The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Biography. 1973.Hume. Vol. 5. New York, New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1973. 415-17.
Mannoia, V. James. Building a Christian World View, God, Man, and Knowledge. 1986. Rationalism and Empiricism. Vol. 1. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1986. 268-71.
The Philosophy of David Hume. 3 May 2000. http://www.angelfire.com/mi/markhelm/.